Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Just Wanna Dance the Night Away

The photograph above was taken, this morning, on a beautiful walk around the estuary on Hayling Island. It looks serene, calm, quiet and you would be forgiven if you thought that this was a reflection of our weekend break.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

In actual fact, we were at Warners Lakeside Holiday Village for our annual Jive Time Riot Weekend. We arrived on Friday evening and came home this morning (Monday) and now, after three evening dances and two full days of dance classes, I'm ready for a week of sleep!

We've been going to the dance weekender in Hayling Island for the last six years and pretty much know the ropes. The food is great (can you believe I ate from the carvery all three evenings) and the chalets, although a bit 'hi-di-hi' are perfectly adequate for what we want. Sadly though, it's the end of an era as the huge indoor bowling hall that serves as our dance room is being demolished and so this year was to be the last one at this venue. We could, of course, go to the new venue next year but we feel that maybe this is the time to give it a break.

These are the some of the workshops we attended: tango jive, advanced jive, retro jive,double trouble, Madison Stroll, fast jive and West Coast Swing.

This is a picture of Seamus and Jane teaching the tango jive class.

The weekender was also a good excuse to buy some new dance shoes (Please don't ask how many I have now!) Luckily, while I was away, I sold a story to Take a Break Fiction Feast which paid for them. Actually I could have bought two pairs.

While we are away, we always try to go for a walk, otherwise we're stuck inside all day. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we grabbed an hour to walk by the waterside. The weather was perfect.

Now it's back to work on the novel and I'm hoping to manage a magazine story too this week... that's if I can stay awake!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Writing a Sequel - Guest Post Deirdre Palmer

I'm always pleased to welcome back author friends who have previously been a guest on my blog. Today, it's the turn of Deirdre Palmer whose new novel, Moonshine, was published this week by Crooked Cat. I thought it would be a good time to find out a little more about Deirdre and her writing life so I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

Can you tell my readers something about your new novel, Moonshine?

There are four main characters: young marrieds Terry and Carol-Anne; Terry’s mate, Mark, and Mark’s girlfriend Vicki, all from Deptford, South London. Also, there’s Donna, Terry and Carol-Anne’s two-year-old daughter. Carol-Anne’s teenage sister, Beverly, plays a big part in the story and she’s mostly seen through the other characters. 

It’s the summer of 1969 and the group go to Paignton for a caravan holiday. The Apollo 11 space mission is in progress, and the whole camp stays up all night to watch the moon-walk on TV, but in the middle of the party, Beverly goes missing, and creates a drama of her own when she makes a serious accusation. Chaos ensues when the others are forced to take sides, nobody knowing who is telling the truth.It’s mostly left to Carol-Anne to sort out the resulting mess, but when they return to London, each of them has other problems to face.

It’s a fast-paced read, with a lot of humour and bit of romance, too. The caravan park, by the way, is based on one I stayed at with a friend around that time. It was all quite primitive then, and I had a lot of fun with that! The clubhouse came from another holiday camp somewhere else, though.

Was it easier or harder to write a sequel and did you always know there would be a second book after Dirty Weekend?

Easier, because I knew the characters so well already – three of the four main characters from Dirty Weekend return in Moonshine. I thought it might be hard to get the balance right between writing a book which would stand alone but have some continuity too, but once I started writing I didn’t have any problems. Again, I think that’s because I knew the characters inside out, and although they threw me a few surprises, I knew basically what their lives had been like in the ‘missing’ three years. After I’d written the next book, Never Coming Back, I wanted a real change from that, and that’s when I decided on the sequel to Dirty Weekend.

How long did Moonshine take you to write?

I can’t remember now, but probably around six to eight months. I only write for a few hours a day.  Some days I don’t write at all.

What was the hardest scene to write?

It was a minor scene, with Carol-Anne and Vicki in a coffee bar. Dialogue is my favourite thing to write but this came at a point in the plot when I needed to show a wariness between the two girls and it just wouldn’t flow. I did my best with it, then my editor picked up on it – the only scene she asked me to look at again, luckily – and finally I got it right.

Do you think it’s important to have a ‘brand’?

Interesting question. Branding is something that’s being talked about a lot at the moment and I do struggle a bit with the concept. If it means getting yourself recognised as an author who writes books on certain themes, in a certain style, which I think it does, it’s a whole lot easier if your books all fit into the same tight genre; romantic comedy, for example. Then you can have matching covers, and carry the design through to your website and all the rest of it.  It’s when you start crossing the boundaries and experimenting with different styles, which I am, it’s much harder to say that you’re this or that kind of writer. So, to answer the question, it probably is important to build a brand in that it helps to sell the books, but achieving it isn’t always that straightforward.

Do you believe in writers’ block?

No. I think if you’re truly stuck for any length of time, something’s wrong with the piece you’re trying to write and it needs a re-think, or it shouldn’t be there at all.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

Yes, they’re very proud of what I’m doing, and my sons plug the books on Instagram and Facebook. Secretly though, they’re all wondering when I’m going to write that massive best-seller!

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Start now, don’t wait as long as I did. Find the time somehow.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Black Beauty.

What next for Deirdre Palmer?

I’m writing some more short stories as I’ve had some success with The People’s Friend, and I may also try a pocket novel. There will be another full-length book at some point but what type of book that will be, I’ve yet to discover!

Wendy, thanks very much for inviting me onto your blog. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions.

Book link

Amazon page link

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Writing Pocket Novels - Guest Post Margaret Mounsdon

Have you ever fancied writing a pocket novel? Well, if you have, this week's lovely guest, Margaret Mounsdon will help you on your way. Over to you, Margaret.

My Weekly and People’s Friend Pocket Novels are a wonderful way to get published. You do not need an agent and the staff at D C Thomson are incredibly helpful and will suggest changes if they like your story so I would tell anyone to give them a go.

They require a synopsis and the first three chapters to get a feel of the story then if they like it, they will ask to see the rest. All details of where to send them are on the website. They are published fortnightly.

I have been writing pocket novels since I gave up my ‘proper’ job and I have to say I now have what I consider to be one of the best jobs in the world. It takes me about three months to complete a pocket novel but I often put them to one side then tweak them a week or so later. When you look at them with a fresh eye it’s amazing what you can do to improve your work.

My pocket novels are contemporary and modern. I like strong females with professional careers. I also love eccentric characters. I usually include a wide range of ages and different social backgrounds as I feel they reflect modern life.

You cannot waste words in a pocket novel. You must keep the action moving. You need a strong story with a theme e.g. ambition; dedication; family loyalty and a problem that has to be resolved in 42,000 words approx for People’s Friend and 50,000 My Weekly. The requirements do change from time to time so it is important to check before you send your manuscript off.

I have had divorced heroes, a heroine’s father who was a gambler, another father who was involved in a financial scandal. I had a heroine’s mother who had a nervous breakdown and another was wheelchair bound. I have confronted modern issues of bullying, shoplifting and some of my eccentric characters have led ‘artistic’ lives.

I get ideas for my novels from life. It helps if you’re a bit nosy like me as I do eavesdrop on conversations on buses and trains and the shops - anywhere there are people. I look at the Sunday supplements and cut out pictures that appeal me to me. I write character sketches and give them a star sign and generally build them a life. I am not very good at writing a synopsis because I don’t seem to stick to it. The story evolves once my fingers start hitting the keyboard. I have a general idea where I’m going but how I get there is generally a bit of a mystery. I know that’s not very helpful advice but it’s the way I do it. I’m not suggesting you adopt my methods because everyone makes their own rules.

My advice is to study the current market by reading as many pocket novels as you can then have a go at one yourself. The stories must reflect the ethos of the magazines something you will get a feel of if you do your market research.

On a personal level I had a varied professional career before I took up writing. I worked for a barrister in London, then as a bi-lingual secretary in Switzerland, France and Belgium. I then worked as a customer relations officer at Gatwick Airport, a marvelous breeding ground for human stories. Then I wound up in a nursing home for the elderly (on the front desk I hasten to add). Everyone bends the receptionist’s ear from staff, to visitors, residents and their relations. We even had a ghost. The house was built in the 1890’s and was also full of mystery so by the time I gave up the day job, my mind was teeming with ideas.

Everybody has led an interesting and varied life so if you get stuck for ideas I suggest you think about your own life. It may seem dull to you but things happen to all of us and if you draw on your own personal reserves it’s surprising what you can come up with. When you go on holiday take pictures, listen to the chatter over the dinner table, take in what the guides are saying. It is all excellent resource material – and free.

Once D C Thomson have published your pocket novels you are free to sell other rights – large print, ebook etc, but I would suggest you check the situation with them first. I always do in case anything has changed.

The large print books go into the library and once they get an ISBN number you can apply for Public Lending Rights, so over the years they can be a source of regular income.

Writing pocket novels has given me confidence as a writer, when people ask me how many books I have had published, it always gives me a thrill when I say thirty.

Good luck.

Details of my books are on my blog margaretsromanceworld.blogspot.com and I can be found on twitter @SwwjMargaret

Hungry For Love is available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XWMNFCJ 

Festival Fever is out in large print on 1 April.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Making Your Hobbies Work for You

The title of this post is a little misleading when put with the photograph above as it gives the impression that baking is my hobby, when in actual fact it isn't. Quite the opposite in fact. I just wanted to get across the idea that sometimes what you do in your leisure time can double up as a money earner.

Back in January, my daughter and I went on a fabulous bread making course at The Artisan Bakehouse in West Sussex. I didn't blog about it before because I knew it would make a great feature for The People's Friend. Although I'm better known for being one of their regular fiction writers, I have, on occasion, written articles for them when the mood takes me. .. and this was one of those times.

I sent my pitch to the features editor to see what he thought and caught him just as he was about to go to a meeting with the rest of his team (now that's what I call good timing). He pitched it to them and luckily they all liked the idea and told me to go ahead and write it. The resulting feature, Better Baking, is in the latest People's Friend Special (out this week). The full feature has a picture of my daughter kneading dough. I'm not sure whether she'll thank me for including it but, hey ho, that's what comes of having a writer for a mother.

Anyway, the point I want to make is that although the things you do outside of your writing life might seem everyday, or uninteresting to you, they may be of great interest to someone else. I could easily have been put off writing this feature as many people already know how to make bread, but the secret is to put you own spin on it. In my case, it was the fact that I am completely useless at baking. In order to give the features editor a clue as to the slant I would be taking, I gave the pitch the title 'Can't Bake, Will Bake'.

After reading my feature yesterday, it gave me an idea for another which I pitched today, so keep your fingers crossed.

My baking day also resulted in a short story... if I manage to sell it, I will have got back the money I paid for the workshop. A bonus!

The other lovely thing is that in the same issue of the magazine, I also have two short stories (It's certainly given me a boost in a week when the novel writing has felt like a bit of a slog).

Neither of my stories are hobby related... but I do have a garden and a dog!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Podcast interview with People's Friend Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair

I started writing for The People's Friend at the end of 2012 and, although it wasn't the first magazine I sold to, it was the one I had the quickest success with. Since then, with my wonderful editor, Alan, by my side making my writing better, I've sold around 140 stories to them.

You can read the post I wrote at the beginning of my People's Friend  journey here.

When I wrote that post, I could never have imagined that four and a half years later, I would hear commissioning editor Shirley Blair say in an interview, 'We buy stories from regular writers... names that our readers will recognise such as Pamela Kavanagh, Wendy Clarke, Alison Carter and Lydia Jones.' 

To have readers recognise my name is an absolute dream come true.

BUT it's not just regular writers Shirley buys from. In her podcast interview on the People's Friend Website, she says they also like to introduce new writers to the readers and bring these new writers on. That's exactly what the magazine did for me four years ago and I'm really pleased they're giving new writers a chance. 

Shirley's podcast is a must for anyone wondering what goes on behind the scenes at the magazine and wanting an idea of what types of story the fiction team do and don't want.

The full podcast interview with Shirley can be found here.

On that note, I have a story in the next People's Friend Special so I'll be keeping a look out for that.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Those Mistakes Writers Make - Guest Post Alex Gazzola

Ever made a writing mistake... a rookie error? Of course you have. My blog guest today is someone who is pretty much an expert - not on making mistakes but on helping others avoid them. Please give a warm welcome to Alex Gazzola, from the well-known blog Mistakes Writers Make. His new book 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make is a must for anyone thinking of writing articles or non-fiction for magazines but a lot of the advice is just as relevant to fiction writers.

Over to you, Alex.

To err is divine … mostly!

When I first started writing about writing mistakes, seven years ago, some writers, not unreasonably, assumed I was doing so to be smug and boastful about my purported writerly perfections, and snide and finger-pointy about others’ writerly imperfections – but that was never the intention or motivation. I just wanted to help non-fiction writers who felt somehow stuck.

So here’s my take on mistakes:

1. Mistakes are good. We all make them, they mean we’re doing something, and when we become or are made aware of them, we can learn from them and correct them.

2. Mistakes of which we’re unaware, and which aren’t stopping us doing what we want to do (from running a blog or publishing an article, to selling a book proposal or making a living from words) aren’t really a problem.

3. Mistakes of which we’re unaware, and which are stopping us doing what we want to do (typically, getting our work sold to editors and noticed by readers) are a problem.

Nobody deliberately sets out to make mistakes in this business. They do what they think is right. But doing it wrong feels the same as doing it right. Unless a tutor, or an honest colleague, or some grumpy bald middle-aged bespectacled self-appointed mistakes guru tells you otherwise, your mistakes won’t feel as if they’re mistakes.

So that’s the idea behind the blog and the books: to help you see what you may be doing wrong and to guide you towards putting it right.

The most fundamental mistake to my mind is the notion that you can become a writer without any help from anyone. But writing is such a team sport – you need a support network of family and friends, people to help you research, the wisdom of editors – that you just can’t play the game alone. You’re going to need experts and other folk to interview if you write for magazines and papers, but pretending you don’t, and refusing to seek out these individuals because you’re intimidated by the thought, is a huge mistake that many beginners make.

When it comes to subject matter, a common issue is to think you can make a living out of writing whatever you want to write. But what editors want to publish and readers want to read may not correspond to that – and writers need to accept it. Sharing your opinion is another common error: there are exceptions, but generally readers want hard facts, not the views of someone they don’t know and don’t want to know. And there’s another mistake right there: assuming readers will care about you. They won’t, on the whole. They care about themselves, and are unlikely to even register your byline.

When it comes to markets, some aim too high – The Times, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest. You’ll hear success stories, granted, but in general the lesser-known titles offer more fruitful hunting grounds. Niche magazines. You may think you can’t write for a  magazine dedicated to hair or horses or Hondas, but you can. You just need to research.

What else? Not reading enough – even refusing to read – is common. Being a bit sniffy about writing fillers (such as letters and tips) or being seen in populist magazines (Take a Break, That’s Life!). Having a fixed path for a writing career mapped out before setting off – and declining to ever take an unexpected left or right turning. Failing to have a target reader and market in mind when writing. Thinking apostrophes don’t matter.

This is not about ridding the writing world of all your mistakes and all of mine. Your mistakes, to some extent, characterise you. Your flaws are often what make you interesting. As the dating agency ad says, even if you don’t love your imperfections, someone else will – or at least won’t mind them. What it is about is tackling the ones that might be holding you back from your goals. I know I make lots of bloopers (I’m rubbish at using dashes properly, for instance), but I’m too grumpy and set in my ways to change, and I am exactly where I want to be – warts, flaws, dodgy punctuation and all.

I hope you are too (without the warts business, obviously). But if you’re not, it could be that there’s just one little thing standing in your way. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find it on the Mistakes Writers Make blog …

Alex Gazzola is a writer who specialises in allergies and food intolerances – as well as writing advice. He is the author of two ebooks, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, and the newly released 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make. His blog is at www.mistakeswritersmake.com

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Romance of a Medieval Abbey

You may have noticed that I didn't write a blog post last week (or maybe you didn't). Usually I try to blog once a week but I knew I was going to be away for a few days and decided to take the opportunity to go internet-free. This also meant I couldn't read or comment on other people's blogs - so I apologise for that.

Every year we save up our Tesco tokens and put them towards a holiday. In the past we've used them to pay for the bulk of canal boat holidays (which makes you wonder how much food we buy!) but now that the step-boy has grown up and does his own thing, we decided to go for something that didn't require the use of his muscle power (have you ever tried opening a stiff lock gate on your own?)

When we looked at our tokens, we realised that several of the ones we'd accumulated were about to expire. We needed to turn them into something nice or they'd be wasted. £30 worth of tokens bought us £100 worth of cottage vouchers - and what better than a mini-break in a beautiful Dorset village?

On the Monday we exchanged our tokens for holiday vouchers and on the following Friday we were driving through the iron gates of Cerne Abbey, in the village of Cerne Abbas, where we would be spending the next three nights.

The cottage we stayed in was attached to the owners' manor house, a grade 1 listed building built on the site of the original gatehouse and incorporating some of it. In the gardens, which our cottage shared with the manor house, was the elaborate ruins of the vaulted porch of the 15th century abbot's hall which you can see in the first photograph. It was just crying out to be written about in a gothic novel

the picture above is our little cottage and the one below is the view from our bedroom window.

The weather was damp and grey but somehow that only added to the atmosphere of the place. I'm not a historical novelist but I'm sure the place will eventually find its way into one of my magazine stories.

We had many wintery walks in the beautiful Dorset countryside and a visit to a sculpture garden at Pallington Lakes. What do you make of this fellow?

Now I'm home and the synopsis for my new novel has just been okayed by my agent so it should be all systems go... but this guy keeps calling to me. Maybe I could give him a cameo role.